Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Bread Bible: Blueberry muffins

Blueberry muffinsI needed baked goods in a hurry one night for sister-in-law's Tickling Tech session, so started these at 9. I was hoping to have my own blueberries for this assignment from The Bread Bible bake-through, but the berries on the earliest of the bushes I planted between my house and the folks next door remain a bit underripe.

I doubled the recipe as younger niece was passing through town with 3 friends on their way to Florida for a brief end-of-the-college-semester vacation. The late start brought a few hurry-up steps. Forget bringing the butter to room temperature--I sliced it into thin pieces, threw on the sugar, and started beating in the stand mixer. Once that had something of a start on blending, I stopped the mixer and moved over to measure the rest of my ingredients. First was zesting a large lemon, and tossing the zest into the bowl with the butter and sugar. Dry ingredients: White Lily flour is my bleached AP flour of choice, instead of the Gold Medal or Pillsbury the recipe calls for, and baking powder and salt. (I opted for buttermilk over sour cream, and so used baking powder instead of soda.)

With the dry ingredients blended and the buttermilk ready to go, I went back to the butter-sugar mixture to beat it until fluffy. The egg and vanilla was beaten in, then the mixing moved to a manual process. Half the dry ingredients and half the buttermilk went on top of the butter and were folded in, then the remaining flour and buttermilk, then the "wild" frozen blueberries, straight from the bag as there's no rinsing and drying of frozen berries. As the berries start defrosting on contact with the room-temperature batter I got some streaking in the batter, but I'm not bothered by the cosmetics. (I've used one blueberry muffin recipe that mashes half the berries into the batter for moistness, then folds in the rest.)

I made 6 regular-sized muffins, then managed 23 mini muffins with the remaining batter. I sprinkled on large sugar crystals and grated a bit of fresh nutmeg over each. The sugar crystals seem to have dissolved for the most part, leaving a rather mottled top to the muffins--maybe I was too slow with getting them into the oven and gave the sugar time to melt.

The muffins baked a bit longer than called for due to the frozen berries, but emerged nicely brown and at temperature. The report was that the lemon-blueberry taste was lovely.

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Rose's Melting Pot: Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken cacciatoreI'm not sure I've ever eaten chicken cacciatore before--I don't recall it being in my mother's repertoire growing up, nor do I recall ordering it in a restaurant. Maybe it was on some school cafeteria line many years ago? Well, if I've ever had it before, I've forgotten. This is another recipe tried under the influence of the group cooking through Rose's Melting Pot, published in 1994.

Chicken cacciatore: it's a stovetop dish of chicken pieces cooked in a tomato-based sauce. No, that gives the wrong feel for the sauce--it's a mixture of chopped veggies bound together with tomato. The first impression is the tomato, but the carrots and celery add their own character.
The recipe called for a whole chicken, but I went with a pack of 4 bone-in thighs for the convenience, number of servings, and the way you really have to work at it to overcook them. Chicken cacciatore The recipe begins by by browning the chicken well, and I used just a drizzle of olive oil instead of a mix of butter and oil, knowing that my skin-on thighs would give up lots of fat quickly. After the chicken was browned it came out of the pan, any excess fat was to be removed (I had less than a tablespoon so kept it all), then in went chopped onion, carrot, and celery. That got sautéed until brown, then a minced clove of garlic was added with another minute of stirring. Then the recipe calls for a can of plum tomatoes, a small can of tomato sauce, and a bay leaf. Chicken cacciatoreI used diced fire-roasted tomatoes instead of the whole plum tomatoes--that might have given me less liquid than whole tomatoes, but never having made this before I can't be sure. The sauce simmered uncovered for 20 minutes before the chicken went back in along with some wine, wine vinegar, and a bit of sugar, then another 20 minute simmer, covered. My smaller thighs were done at that point, but the larger ones needed another 5-10 minutes.
A bit of chopped parsley and a basil leaf (plucked off the poor plant I transplanted yesterday) chiffonade for garnish, and I had a lovely supper. The sauce is thick and well-flavored, and went really well with the chicken and the roasted broccoli I had on the side.

Rose's Melting Pot: Non-Yorkshire Non-Popovers

Popover flopsI stumbled across another Internet group baking through one of Rose Levy Beranbaum's cookbooks the other day, and while I haven't decided to ask if I could join them, it did get me to pull the cookbook Rose's Melting Pot off the shelf and look at their recent assignments. The popovers caught my eye--I've made popovers several times with good success, and this one riffs off the basic recipe to use beef fat instead of butter for a Yorkshire pudding taste. I didn't see the need to buy and render beef fat when, like a good Southern cook, I keep some bacon fat around.
I tried a few other changes too, and apparently went too far as my popovers didn't "pop". I wanted a cheese and bacon flavor so added 2 tablespoons of cheese powder, and a small amount (under a half an ounce) of finely grated Parmesan to the batter. I suspect the problem was the cheese powder messing up the hydration ratio, as popovers need that blast of steam to expand dramatically.
Popover flopsAnyway, I have some lovely browned items that look sort of like tall muffins, with slightly doughy centers. The bacon-y flavor is great, but the cheese flavor was lost. I should have skipped both the cheese powder and the grated Parm given that. Not to waste my effort, I split one popover, pulled out the doughy bits, and filled the cavities with scrambled eggs. The casing is not a good popover crust, but it still serves pretty well as a pastry case.
This same recipe will show up in The Bread Bible bake-through eventually, so I'll give it another shot then.Popover flops

Monday, May 9, 2016

BB: Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry BuckleAlas, the Blueberry Buckle assignment came along a week or so too early for my blueberry bushes...the berries are not yet blue. I did find some Georgia-grown blueberries at the store, though, for this easy recipe. Seemed to me that the hardest part was picking blueberry stems off the berries.
IMG_4354I used an 8" square Pyrex dish for my buckle, with 2 small ramekins on the side for tasters as the large dish was headed off to sister-in-law's Friday morning Tickling Tech session for teachers. A mixture of sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, a bit of salt, and lemon juice goes in the pan and mixed, then in go the blueberries to get coated with it. I spooned out a bit for each ramekin at this point. Then came a quick cake batter, mixed in the fats-into-flour method, then beating in an egg mixture. The dough got dolloped onto the ramekins and the square pan, leaving a border around the edges and a center hole in the big pan. I didn't make my center hole the suggested 2 inches (with some vague thought that my square pan might not need that large a hole, or maybe it was thinking that batter was piled up pretty good around the sides, and it closed up in the baking. I suspect that just slowed the baking down a bit, as that center part was the last to get done.

The little ramekins were done in 20 minutes. The big dish took the full 40 minutes, covered with foil to slow down the browning for the last 10. I ate my little ramekin of buckle while waiting for the larger one to finish, warm, and it was lovely with the cake topping on sweet fruit. I generally will make a crumble when I want a baked fruit dessert because I like the crunchy character of that topping, but this was a nice change.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

BB: Crumpets

Crumpets I'd been thinking about making crumpets, even before noticing they are the recipe for the Alpha Bakers this week. It started as I was weeding my cookbooks a bit, deciding that the old Time-Life Good Cook volume on Bread is headed out the door. AS I was flipping through it, I spotted the photo layout that led me to make my first crumpets--I think to that point crumpets were something from British stories I'd read, but never seen in my part of the world. The Good Cook version is Jane Grigson's, from English Food.

So, I made them, found them good, and eventually crumpets appeared in the refrigerated section of the grocery stores here and looked much like my homemade version. I don't think I've made them at home since the grocery store version appeared, though homemade area certainly superior.

Now, The Baking Bible version: this is a fast recipe for one involving yeast, and as it's a small batch (1 cup of flour) it doesn't even need to dirty more than a bowl and some measuring spoons. I mixed my flour, yeast, touch of sugar, and salt with a whisk, added the warm water, beat the mixture for a bit with the whisk, then (in nostalgia for the Good Cook technique) slapped the batter around with my hand for a bit. My first rise was done after an hour, in went baking soda in a bit of almond milk, then the batter got a further 30 minutes to bubble away some more.

CrumpetsI used my electric griddle for the baking, and found the recommended temperature was too high--my crumpets got a bit too brown before they cooked through, even though they were thinner than I really like them. Next time, I'll add more batter to my shallow crumpet rings and try to hit that balance between full and running over.

Details aside, I now have 5 holey crumpets for future toasting-- the 6th having been eating off the griddle with a bit of butter.
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